Fundraiser to save marble museum falters
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | December 01,2012
PROCTOR — A fundraising effort to save the Vermont Marble Museum, and along with it the history of the state’s marble industry, has come up short.
The Preservation Trust of Vermont stepped in this summer offering to buy the museum, collection and gift shop, from owners Marsha and Martin Hemm for $880,000.
But Paul Bruhn, Preservation Trust of Vermont executive director, said Friday only $200,000 had been raised. Faced with an end of December deadline to come up with the rest of the money, Bruhn said it was obvious the goal could not be met.
The Hemms set an end of the year deadline to raise the money, otherwise their intent was to sell the museum and its contents.
“We of course are really, really disappointed and feel very badly that we couldn’t convey our passion and enthusiasm for this and communicate that with prospective donors,” Bruhn said.
Several weeks after signing the agreement to buy the museum in July, Bruhn said it became apparent the $880,000 goal was likely out of reach.
As an alternative, he said the Hemms agreed to sell only the collection for $400,000 with the Preservation Trust attempting to raise the funds to buy the building. But while that was a more manageable sum, Bruhn said in the end that goal wasn’t attainable either.
He said the fundraising efforts were hampered by a still-sluggish economy that deterred many of the two or three dozen prospective donors who were approached.
Bruhn also said some prospective donors were reticent to commit funds to a project without knowing who would own the museum.
The Preservation Trust agreed to buy the museum but only on an interim basis to raise the money and then find a permanent nonprofit to own and operate the museum.
“I think for some donors having that uncertainly was a concern or an issue for them,” he said.
Two donors that made commitments were The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which pledged $100,000, and the Alma Gibbs Donchian Foundation, which committed $40,000.
Time was also a factor. From the time the purchase and sale agreement was signed, the Preservation Trust had only five months to raise the $880,000.
Bruhn said given such a short time frame it was impossible to launch a public fundraising campaign.
The Hemms announced in April that they would either sell or close the museum by the end of the year. A spike in commercial electric rates in Proctor following the sale of the Vermont Marble Power Division to Central Vermont Public Service Corp. forced the Hemms over the financial edge. Although a deal was reached this summer to soften the rate impact with a phase-in over several years, the Hemms said the deal came too late for them to change their mind.
The Hemms were not available for comment Friday on whether their plans for the museum had changed.
The 90,000-square-foot building in Proctor holds the history of what was once the largest marble company in the world.
Founded in 1880 by Redfield Proctor, the company at its peak employed 5,000 people worldwide. Many who worked the local quarries and the Proctor and West Rutland mills were immigrants from Europe.
For decades, the Proctor family influence extended to politics, with three members of the family serving as governor.
Any number of monuments and buildings were built with Vermont marble, including the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, the U.S. Supreme Court Building and the White House interior. It can also be found in places as far away as Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, where the marble was used to build the National Chiang Kai-Chek Memorial Hall in Taipei.
Over the years, the Hemms added exhibits on the Tomb of the Unknown, geology, and Omya Inc., the calcium carbonate company.
The Hemms purchased the museum from Omya Inc. 18 years ago.
Although much of the company’s history has been catalogued, more remains to be done. Of the 2,000 glass negatives, 1,000 taken by the company’s in-house photographer still need to be catalogued.